Hatton Gardens: Last act of old-school villainy

Timothy Spall as Terry Perkins. Credit: ITV/Stuart Wood.

Timothy Spall stars in a new four-part TV series about the audacious Hatton Garden robbery, writes Laura Harding.

Few crimes in modern times have captured the public imagination like the audacious burglary of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company.

The heist in 2015, dubbed “the largest burglary in English legal history” saw an unlikely gang of elderly London robbers pull off a bold jewellery raid worth at least £14 million in the English capital’s diamond district after drilling a hole into the wall of an underground vault.

The crime has already been the subject of three films, and now it’s getting the small-screen treatment with the four-part ITV drama Hatton Garden, starring Timothy Spall.

“I remember at the time there was a perceived wisdom that it must have been some kind of international group or something,” Spall says in a break between takes on the set of the production, “a very sophisticated group of people.

“When you saw those pictures of that hole, you thought it was an audacious level of derring-do and all that. It had all the ingredients of being something that is almost inherently dramatic.”

Then the truth came out, that the perpetrators were all elderly men and Terry Perkins, who Spall plays, was 66 when he masterminded the raid. He has since died in Belmarsh Prison.

Timothy Spall as Terry Perkins, Geoff Ball as Carl Wood, Brian F O'Byrne as Basil, Kenneth Cranahm as Brian Reader, David Hayman as Danny Jones and Alex Norton as Kenny Collins. Credit: ITV/Stuart Wood.

“It all then kind of made sense to me. It occurs to me that all these guys probably would be older because this is, as I believe someone said, an analogue robbery in a digital age.

“These were the last type of this old style of robbers. So it’s hardly surprising there’s 76 films being made, and the musicals come in.

“There is a human quality to it, because it’s not about pressing a button and taking 10 billion quid off someone. It’s about graft, and what you’re seeing is men getting tired doing physical labour.

“If you turn the sound off and you just watch it, you think: This is just a bunch of poor geezers, a load of old construction workers who are having to work in their sixties, down a hole in a vault.

“These blokes, they’re old and knackered, it’s still graft. And that’s old-fashioned. But also we’re all fascinated by villainy, and particularly audacious villainy.”

Spall refers to the long history of depictions of criminality in British films, not least in the 1950s with such movies as The Lavender Hill Mob, starring Alec Guinness and Sid James. “It goes right back to Robin Hood doesn’t it? And back to us really having an incredibly strong establishment, an incredibly strong structure in this society, a strong justice system, an established order. Anything that steps out of it is fascinating to us.

“But this series gives you more time over a longer period to investigate other aspects, family stuff, and victims, which is very important for this as a counter-balance.”

Originally due to air in December 2017, the series was put on hold afterprosecutors told ITV it clashed with the trial of the real life perpetrators.

The series, penned by screenwriter Jeff Pope, was re-scheduled for a second time following the trial of final suspect Seed — known as Basil, and played here by Irish actor Brian F O’Byrne — who was convicted in March 2019.

“What is, on one level, amusing and funny and seems like old codgers, is also riddled with tension between all the characters,” Spall says.

With a series you have more time to breathe more space into it, so you’re allowed to see its mundanity, as well as its extraordinariness. That’s what I liked about it.

“You’re seeing that these blokes, they are normal. Perkins is a Type 1 diabetic. You see him taking insulin quite a lot, and he’s very, very tired at times.

“He has an episode the second time they go back in the vault, where it’s quite touch-and-go for him. On the outside these dramas could be regarded as glamorous, but there are in fact really practical things that you’re seeing.

“It’s not a glamorisation at all. What you’re observing in this is a process. This is what they do and this is a job to them, however unpleasant it is.

And I think that is what is fascinating about criminals. Because on one level they look really ordinary, but what they do adds a spirit of adventure to it. And it’s also two fingers up which we all romanticise about.

“But you’re also seeing this sub-plot of the consequences of what they’ve done; with this couple that, due to the low profit margins and the work-rate, don’t have insurance in this story and are proper victims in it.”

Spall never met Perkins before he died, but did mull over what he would ask him if he could.

“I would just want to know how he got on in jail, how it was. Whatever my opinions, my objective opinions, are about him, I always try and play characters as a human — a human being, as textured and with as much depth as I can.

“I would hope that he would feel that I wasn’t trying in any way to do anything other than play him in a complete way.”

Hatton Garden starts on Monday, May 20 at 9pm on Virgin Media One, and runs over four consecutive nights

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